A Travellerspoint blog

December 2016

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 2

Iceland, Reykjavik, Golden Circle Tour, South Coast Tour, Lava Cave Tour.

rain 44 °F

Sunday morning. I had my oatmeal, then we took Holly for a long walk. After the walk, I took a quick shower and went over my final packing list. I am packing very light so I am leaving my laptop and most of my clothes with Steve. WOW Air only allows 1 carry-on for free, max 5 kilos. I am going to wear all my cold weather clothes on the plane to stay under the 5-kilo limit. About 40 minutes before the train departure time, Steve drove me to the train. We had time to chat before the train to Boston pulled in. He was going to keep my van and possessions until my return from Iceland. I got on, found a seat and bought a ticket from the conductor. It was $7 for seniors to Boston North Station. I asked her about getting to Logan from the train station. She was kind enough to write down the route for me. Once at the North Station, I walked to the subway station, bought the Charlie Pass. I had to transfer once but it stops right at Logan. The shuttle bus takes you from the subway station to your airline. I found WOW Air check-in and gave them my passport, flight details. They do weigh your carry-on but I was close enough to 5 kilos that she let it go. I was there early so I bought a sandwich at the airport, found the right gate, read my book, ate and waited. An announcement tells us that our flight was running an hour late to Reykjavik. Nobody cared as the flight usually gets into KEF at 4:30am. Now we would get there at 5:30am. Not a big deal as nothing in Reykjavik is open until 8am. It was a decent flight, no complaints on my part. Of course food is extra but I had my granola bars so did not feel the need to order anything. The prices were not that bad if you did need a snack. Landed in Keflavik around 6am and we lined up for Customs & Immigration. Iceland gives US citizens 3 months on arrival so it went very quickly. I only had a carry-on so I made my way to the exit. You have several choices on transport to Reykjavik. Flybus is very big in Iceland but I chose Grayline Tours as I had a good experience with them in NYC. Same price for both companies. About $32 USD round trip. I paid cash so I could get some kroner back. On the bus and less than an hour later we were in Reykjavik. It was dark, cold, light rain falling. They let you off right next to their tour office, but it was closed until 8am. I found a bakery close by and had hot tea and a bun. At 8am I walked to the tour office to ask them about tours. I was the first one into the office and glad to get out of the rain. I had the girl look up the weather for the next several days and she confirmed what I found out in Mass. The 12th and 13th were going to have better weather than the rest of the week. I was tired from the flight but booked the Golden Circle Tour that leaves at 9am. Pulled out my credit card, about $100 USD. They shuttle you from their tour office to the Grayline main bus HQ. I went inside to chat with the tour people. I decided to book the South Coast tour for the next day. The weather was going to get worse on the 14th, 15th, 16th so why wait?. Dinged my credit card another $120 and waited. Grayline is very professional and I would use them again. They call the Golden Circle tour and we troop over the bus and got on. The tour guide was fluent in both English & French and he went back and forth on what we would be seeing and doing. First stop was an overlook of the geothermal heating system that Iceland uses to heat their homes and businesses. Iceland has 5 geothermal plants that produce 26% of their electrical power and 87% of their hot water & heating needs. Because of the abundance of geothermal and hydroelectric power, Iceland is one of the greenest countries on the planet. Next up was the Pingvellir National Park. This is where the North American & European tectonic plates meet. Whenever you have tectonic plates grinding against each other, you have earthquakes and volcanoes. This why Iceland is the land of fire and ice. Far enough North for glaciers, it also has volcanoes because of the fault line running thru the country. Pingvellir NP is also where the Alpingi Assembly met in historic times to dispense justice. It was cold and windy when we were there and everyone headed for the bus as soon as possible. I forgot to bring my ski cap and sure needed it at Pingvellir NP. Next up was the Gullfoss Waterfall. Gullfoss is a very impressive sight and all of us walked the trail for better camera angles. You can get close enough that the spray from the waterfall can get you seriously wet. On a cold, windy day, that is not a smart move. After everyone trooped back to the bus, we drove to the Gullfoss Cafe and gift shop for warmth and food.
After lunch we stopped at the 'Great Geysir' area. This geysir is where all geysers got their name. The Stokkur Geysir is like Old Faithful in Yellowstone NP. It goes off every regularly, usually between 4 to 8 minutes. We were there long enough for several rounds of eruptions. After we all had enough of geyser action we headed back to Reykjavik.
Our tour stops at a church and we all pile out. The weather is not too bad for Iceland, but getting inside the church is still a good move. I get some photos and back on the bus.
Our last stop is at the Icelandic Fakasel Horse Park so we can see the Icelandic ponies. This was a hit with everyone. The ponies have numerous tour groups stop every day so they have become conditioned to visitors touching them plus they seem to pose for photos as well. I heard several of my tour group talking about coming back so they could ride the ponies the next day. We all got our photos and it was time to head for Reykjavik.
It was dark by the time we hit the Grayline HQ and transferred to vans. Grayline will take you to your hotel. I told them I was close to the Viking Hotel out in Hafnarfjorour. Of course I was last to be dropped off but got lucky as our guide was driving the van. I showed him the address to the airbnb room and he used his GPS to drive right to it. I tip him a 1000kr note then followed the instructions on how to get into the room. It was cold and raining and I could not get the lockbox open for the door key. I banged and the door and one of the other guests opened the door and showed me to my room. He also showed me how to use the box and get the key. You are instructed to open the door, put the key back in the box. Several others are using the same key. My room was small, but had a bed, TV, small kitchen. There were enough pots & pans for my oatmeal, eggs, toast, so I was OK with it. Small fridge for milk, yogurt, jam. I was going to have most of my meals in the room so needed to find out how everything worked. The other guy told me how to get to the nearest store. It was about 7pm but needed to shop before I could have dinner. Put on hat and coat and walked to the Kronan store in a light rain. 10 minutes of walking in the cold & rain, I was shopping for my PB&J, eggs, oatmeal, bread, milk, bananas, apples, hot chocolate and headed back. I fired up the hot plate, toaster and had hot chocolate, toast & oatmeal. I add a banana and half an apple to the bowl of oatmeal. I get a lot of bulk and nutrition for not many calories. I have oatmeal almost every morning at home so try to do the same when on the road. Had a shower, read until tired and turned off the lights. It had been a very long day and I was ready for some sleep. I don't sleep very well at home, so I did not expect to get a very good night's sleep on a small, fold-out bed. Up early the next morning, I did my stretching, sit-ups before fixing oatmeal & toast. I walked down to the Viking Hotel as that was where Grayline would pick me up for the South Coast Tour. The van took me back to the Grayline HQ, I checked in and had enough time for some tea and bun at the bakery next to their office. At 9:30am, we all board the bus for the South Coast Tour. As we got out of Reykjavik, the weather got better. Not exactly blue skies like Las Vegas, but at least not raining as much. We are passing dramatic scenery as we headed for the first waterfall. The driver did not stop, but I hoped that we would have other chances for scenic vistas. We all pile out at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. and walk towards the waterfall. Our driver tells us we have an hour to explore the area. Seljalandsfoss is famous for having a path that allows you to walk behind the waterfall. I decide not to walk behind the falls because I did not want to get wet or jeopardize my camera by the spray. I talked to others after they had gone behind the falls and they said they did not get that wet. Oh well, too late to do it now. I did walk down past the falls and got some shots of smaller waterfalls plus was rewarded with a beautiful rainbow. After we all got back to the bus, we headed for our next stop.
After we all were back on the bus, we head for the volcanic beach at Reynisfjara and the village of Vik. There is a small store and restaurant at Vik and this is our lunch stop. After walking to the black sand beach and getting all the photos I wanted, I decide to sit outside and have my sandwich & fruit. After everyone has finished lunch, our guide takes us to the Gardar section of the black sand beach. This part of Iceland has many volcanoes and over the millennia, the lava has cooled into columnar jointing. Devil's Postpile in Calif. is another place to view columnar jointing. Gardar is a unique display that is certainly worth the walk. Every South Coast tour stops here and there are hundreds of people walking the beach and climbing the columns.
After the Gardar columns, our guide decides to take us up a steep dirt road to an overlook. He told us they don't do it when the path is too muddy or slippery. We were lucky the weather had improved as the day progressed. By now it was partly sunny, not bad for Iceland. There are great views from the top of this cliff and we all walk along the edge getting our photos. After everyone is on the bus, we head back down the steep road.
Next up is another waterfall. This is Skogafoss, 196ft (60m) tall and 80ft (25m) wide. A tremendous amount of water is flowing over the fall giving off a constant spray and there is a good chance of another rainbow. There is a path leads to the top of Skogafoss and I see plenty of people heading for the top. I am told there are 527 steps to the platform and quickly decide to pass on this option. After our allotted time, we all get back on the bus for our ride back. The weather was decent for Iceland and it turned out to be an enjoyable day. I was glad I listened to the Grayline personnel at the tour desk. Our driver does stop for scenic views of the Eyjafjallajokull & Hakla Volcanoes as we head for Reykjavik.
Once back at the Grayline HQ in Reykjavik, I again transfer to the smaller van to the Viking Hotel. There is a Subway shop close to the Viking so I bought a veggie delight and walked to my room. Not much to do in a small room but do my stretching, sit-ups, some TV, read, shower and time for bed. I had no plans for the next few day so took my time in the morning. About 10am I poked my head out the door and saw that it was raining, cool, windy. I packed my day bag and headed for the bus stop. In Hafnarfjorour the bus stops at a mall so I went inside to check prices on food and ski hats. As expected, pricey. Kronan's has better selection and prices. I caught the #2 bus, 420 kroner. You have to have exact change as the driver won't make any change. Almost all locals have fare cards, student cards something because I was the only one that put cash in the hopper. I got off at the bus terminal in Rey. and walked to Laugavegur St. their main shopping street. Part of it has traffic and part is pedestrian only. I found the Red Cross store and asked about hats, gloves. I had both in my van but they did not get into my carry-on. They had some decent gloves and they lady agreed to 1,000 kr, about $8. No caps worth buying. I went into Lundinn Souvenir Store and found a cap with Iceland on it for about $15. Nice reminder of being in Iceland and will keep my head warm as I walk the streets of Reykjavik. It was not great weather, cool light rain. I walked up the Hallgrimskirkja Church. The tallest building around and has a statue of Leif Erickson out front. According to the plague, he was the first to land on the North American Continent. It certainly was not Columbus as he hit several of the islands in the Caribbean but never made landfall on the Continent. I went inside to get out of the rain and warm up. I took some photos and headed back to Laugavegur St. I decided it was not worth walking around downtown Reykjavik anymore and headed for the bus. Another 420kr, 30 minute ride and I was back at the shopping center that is the end of bus #2 route. I walked back to my room, hot shower and changed into my room clothes. Hot chocolate and my PB&J for lunch. The next day was the 15th and raining even harder than the day before. I walked out to into the street to see if there was any break in the clouds/rain off in the distance. No such luck so decided to spend the day inside. Got my sit-ups and stretching done, oatmeal, toast, tea then killed the day with TV, reading, bringing my daily journal up to date. The guys down the hall came home from work around 5pm. They are from Bulgaria and are renting by the month. According to them, finding an affordable place to live is not easy in Reykjavik. And many other cities around the world as well. Next day was cool and raining again. I was out of bananas, apples & bread so I bundled up and walked to Kronan's. It was going to be my only exercise that day so took the long way there, about 30 minute walk each way. Oatmeal, toast for BF, hot chocolate with PB&J during the day, eggs, toast & tea for dinner. The next day was less rain so I took the bus to downtown and walked for several hours. I got better photos of the graffiti that seems to be everywhere. I asked several shop girls and they said most consider it art so it is not removed. Graffiti that is deemed obscene or racist is removed. I walked to the waterfront and got photos of the sculpture that is in the harbor and over to Harpa, the Convention and Performing Arts Center. They have a tour of the building and decided to take it.
When I was tired of walking, I headed to the bus station, got the #2 bus back to Hafnarfjorour. Home, shower, tea, read, TV, dinner and bed at 10pm. The next day I walked back to Kronan's as I did not have enough eggs, jam, hot chocolate, to make it to the last day. Home, lunch and then decided to walk over to the Viking Hotel and book another tour. I chatted with the front desk girl and decided on the Iceland From Below Tour, $100. This is a tour of a Lava Cave. There are other options but some of them are stupid expensive. $240 to walk on a glacier, $250 to go into an ice cave. I paid at the Viking Hotel with my credit card and was told when they would pick me up across the street. I wanted to soak in a hot tub, but the one at the Viking was for guests only and the ones within walking distance were really just swimming pools heated by steam. I read my book and chatted with some Brit guests that sat down at the table I was using. Walked back to my room in the rain and killed the rest of the day. Same routine in the morning, then I walked to the Viking Hotel to wait for the Grayline bus to pick me up for the Lava Cave Tour. The weather was better so I got some photos of the hotel before the bus arrived.
It was not that far to the Lava Cave, maybe 30 minutes. They provide overall, hard hats with a light, gloves. We all get suited up and walk to the entrance to the cave. It was not an easy path into the cave and it only got worse. The ceiling was a bit over 5 ft, (1.5m) so everyone one taller than that had to bend over to avoid banging your head on the lava ceiling. A couple of the guys were taller than I am, but they were much younger. They could duck down enough and still make good progress. I quickly was the last one, trying to keep up with the group. I banged my head numerous times and then stumbled on the broken lava rock floor. I banged my right shin on a rock and got a pretty good jolt of pain. At this point, a Chinese couple asked me if I was OK. I told them "NO", I am having a tough time walking while crouched over on a broken rock floor.The man took my lead hand and the lady my other hand and tried to help me stay with the group. At one point in the cave, the ceiling comes down so low that you have to crawl thru about a 3 ft (1m) high opening. I realized I just could not keep holding up the group and decided to stay right there. I did not want to crawl thru that opening then back again. I asked the man to find out how much further the cave continued. It was only about another 50 meters to the end so I told the couple to join the group and I would wait for them to return. It was only about 10 minutes before the tour guide came to me to find out if I was OK. There is another branch to the cave and she asked the group who wanted to take it. I wanted out but everyone else wanted more cave experience. She got me to where I could see daylight and told her I could make it back to the van from here. She gave me the key and said they would be about 20 minutes behind me. I took my time and got out of the cave w/o any further damage. Once out of the cave I could see the blood stain on the coveralls. Once back at the van, I could see that my pants and sock were soaked in blood. I waited for the group to return and then showed our guide my injury. She got out the first aid kit, cleaned the wound and put a bandage on it. I have never felt so old and clumsy as trying to negotiate that lava cave. Your brain and heart say "go, you can still do it", but in reality, you can't. There is one stop on the way back for a fish drying rack. Until just last year, fishing was Iceland's most important industry. Now it is tourism. I doubt fishing will ever overtake tourism as the most important source of revenue again.
It was only another 30 minutes after the drying racks that the bus dropped me off at the Viking Hotel. I limped back to my room and looked at my leg wound. My plan was to go to the Blue Lagoon on my last full day, but there was no way I was going to get into a public bathing pool with my would. I ended up just staying in my room and tending to my injury. The day of my flight arrived and I cleaned the room, put my sheets, towels in the box for soiled items. One last check to see if I had everything and I walked to the Subway shop. I bought a veggie delite and over to the bus stop. One last time I took the #2 bus to downtown Reykjavik. It lets you off very close to the Grayline tour office. I show them my return ticket and the shuttle me to the Grayline Bus HQ. After a short wait we all board for the trip to the airport. I am wearing all my heavy gear and hope I am under the 5 kilo carry-on limit. I check in and the WOW lady does not even bother to weigh my carry-on. Great, don't have to deal with that issue. I ate half of my Subway waiting for my flight to be called. We all board according to our row number and off we go for Boston. An eventful flight and I retrace my steps to get back to the train to Leominster. I fire up my mobile phone and tell Steve I am on the train heading his way. Steve was waiting for me when I got in and back to his house. I met his wife Katie and we chat for a few hours. I had a quick meal in North Station waiting for my train. I played with Holly and it was time for a shower and bed.

Posted by vegasmike6 12:35 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 3

Vermont, Lake Placid, Williamsport, Lewis & Clark, Corn Palace.


Steve and Katie's guest bedroom does not have a window so you don't get any light clues when to get up. I woke up around 6am and decided to do some stretching and stomach exercises before heading downstairs. Holly greeted me when I came into the den. She wanted to go outside so I got the leash and gave her a small walk. Holly wanted to head down the street on her regular route, but I kept her on the lawn. After about 5 minutes of tugging for a longer walk, she did her business and we went back inside. I waited until I heard someone else get up and started my oatmeal. Katie came down first and we chatted a bit until I noticed my shin was bleeding again. Katie did some first aid on my wound and then she had to go to work. I ate and waited for Steve to come downstairs. He fixed his BF while we talked. I was going to follow him to Standard Chair so I could say goodbye to the office ladies. I thanked Steve again for letting me stay with him before and after my flight to Iceland. After saying goodbye to Steve and all the office staff, I headed out. I have 6 days before I wanted to be in South Dakota so had to decide what I wanted to see on the way back West. I did some shopping at Walmart in Gardner, gassed up and headed for Vermont. I wanted to visit the capitol, Montpelier and also Ben & Jerry's factory tour. Up thru New Hampshire, I-91 to I-89 and headed for Burlington. I saw a sign for Joseph Smith's birthplace and decide to stop. It is not too far off 89 but a few more signs would have been helpful. As I walked to the first building, a lady came down to give me the tour. I have several Mormon friends so I knew the basics of Joseph Smith and the start of the Mormon religion. I told her I only had limited time so did not walk out to the big monument or see everything. I took some photos, a brochure and moved on.
By the time I got to Montpelier, the Capitol building was closed. Some photos of the outside and headed for Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory Tour. It was after 5pm but they run tours until 9pm in Sept. Paid my $3 and waited for the tour to start. I had been on it many years ago but thought it was worth an hour of my time. You cannot take many photos inside the factory, but you do get a free sample of ice cream! They change the flavor daily so not telling what you are going to get.
I drove towards Burlington and stopped at a rest stop and info center. Once this far north in VT, the only way across to New York is a car ferry and you have several choices. The one out of Burlington is $30 and takes an hour. I chose the Grand Isle to Plattsburgh NY ferry, $10.25 and 15 minutes. It is a very scenic drive to the ferry but it was getting dark quickly. I got in line, paid my $10.25 and got on the ferry. Within 5 minutes we set off for Plattsburgh. I never got out of my van as it is a short ride and very little room to open the door. I follow all the vehicles off the ferry and head for Plattsburgh. I put Wendy's in my GPS and followed the directions. I had dinner, brought my journal up to date, read my book, bathroom and then followed GPS to Walmart. I found the RVs parked off to the side and pulled next to one. I walked into Walmart to kill time and buy some bananas, apples, pop tarts. I got my van ready and called it a night.

I was up with the sun and decided to head for Lake Placid. I had been there on my last trip to upstate NY and thought it was worth another visit. I drove slowly thru Lake Placid and finally found a free parking spot. Like many resort towns, not much free parking close to tourist attractions. My parking spot was next to Mirror Lake, got out and snapped a few shots. It was perfect weather, shorts & t-shirt after the sun had warmed things up. A lady was watering plants at the Mirror Lake Inn and I asked her where I could fix my BF. She suggested Lake Placid, only about a mile down the road I was on. I drove to Lake Placid and pulled into the boat docking area. There are several tables plus a bathroom here plus free parking. Had my oatmeal, cleaned up and drove to the closest free parking I could find. I took my camera and walked to downtown Lake Placid. I went into the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, paid my $5 and walked the exhibits. This is where both the 1932 & 1980 Olympic skating events were held. The 'Miracle on Ice' in 1980 forever immortalized this rink for Americans. After the Museum I walked back to my van and decided to drive to the Olympic Ski Jump complex, paid the $8 senior rate, parked and took the chairlift up to the top. Plenty of great photo options from the top of the ski jump hill. There were no jumpers today but we had beautiful weather plus the fall foliage was just starting to turn.
After I had all the photos I wanted, I headed for Saranac Lake. It is a beautiful lake but w/o a boat, not worth much of my time. I looked at the map and decided I wanted to see Niagra Falls again. I have been there several times, but it has been many years and thought it worth a return visit. The Adirondack Mts are beautiful this time of year and really enjoyed driving towards Watertown. Unfortunately, the weather turned against me as I got closer to Watertown. It started raining pretty hard and I pulled into a rest stop to re-evaluate my plans. It was several hundred miles out of my way to hit Niagra Falls and return to my route. I hit Syracuse and on to Binghamton. It was still raining and I decided this was as far as I was going to get tonight. I found a Wendy's, ate and asked if a Walmart was close. I got directions and it was not in my GPS. Anything built in the last 10 years is not in my GPS. I found a Walmart, bathroom, took my Aleve PM and hit the sleeping bag.

I got up when I saw daylight and headed South on I-81. Merge onto I-80 West. I stopped at a rest stop for my oatmeal and headed for Williamsport. I have watched Little League World Series for many years and wanted to see the place for myself. I took I-180 to South Williamsport and followed the signs to LLWS Museum. I paid my $5 and toured the museum. Then I walked to the ball fields, got some photos of the stadium and the famous 'Casey at the Bat' statue. All Little League players make the trek over to 'Casey'. One of the rituals of attending the LLBWS. I had asked the lady in the museum where the public library was and got directions. I drove over, signed up for a computer, checked my e-mails plus the weather on my route to South Dakota.
I got back onto I-80 West and made it to Ohio before I got tired of driving and found a Walmart for the night outside of Akron. Next day was the same routine, food, gas, drive into Iowa and spent the night at a Walmart outside of Iowa City. Next day I took I-80 to I680 to I-29 North. I saw a sign for Lewis & Clark State Park and decided to stop. I had watched the Ken Burn's 'Corps of Discovery' and wanted to see some of the places highlighted on the TV series. The park is on Blue Lake, one of the Missouri River's many branches. Lewis & Clark used the Missouri River as their path West. While at this camping spot, they made the trek to Blackbird's Grave on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. This is 1804 and most of the continent west of St. Louis had not been fully explored. The goal of the Corps of Discovery was to reach the Pacific Ocean by using the rivers. Perhaps the greatest and most difficult exploration of the US in our history. I encourage anyone not familiar with the Lewis & Clark Expedition to read the book or watch the Ken Burns special. It will be worth your time. I got some decent photos and headed for Sioux City.
There is a monument to Sergeant Floyd, the only man to die on the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It is high on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and worth a stop if you are passing thru Sioux City.
Gas, food, and I entered South Dakota. I stopped at the information center on I-90 and then headed West. I stopped at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, photos and moved on.
I made it to Chamberlain, right on the Missouri River. Ate at McDonald's and afterward headed for a campground. I saw their sign entering Chamberlain and wanted to see their facilities and prices. It was around 8pm and figured they would be reasonable on prices for 1 night's camping. I was wrong again. They charge $23 just to park my van and a shower. I chatted with the lady and she told me about free camping down by the river. She drew me a map and I drove to the river. It really is a nice location. Quiet, close to the river, free. I had used the bathroom at McDonald's so was ready for bed. Around 9pm I got in my sleeping bag and called it a night.

Posted by vegasmike6 12:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 4

South Dakota. Missile tour, Prairie Homestead, Badlands NP, Jewel Cave NP, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mt. Rushmore NM.

sunny 70 °F

I got up with the sun and retraced my way back to I-90. The police tapped on my window at 2am, just checking on me they said. The lady at the campground warned me that they would. Crossed the Missouri River and stopped at the first rest stop for bathroom, clean up and reload my water bottle. I saw a sign for the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and decided to stop. It is just off I-90 and worth your time IMO. It was 8:30am and I walked up to the Ranger standing outside and listened to his information. They would open the doors at 9am and offered tours every half hour. I was in the first 6 and was given a ticket for the 10am tour. That gives everyone a chance to watch the movie on the cold war, then tour the exhibits. You have to drive to the Delta 01 Launch Control Facility to start the tour. I drove over to Delta 01 and joined my group. Jim, our guide actually worked at a launch control facility while in the Air Force then came out of retirement to to give these tours. His photo is on the wall and several on the tour recognized his name when he introduced himself to us. We walk inside the facility, take the elevator down to the launch control area. Now we know why only 6 are allowed each tour. The elevator only holds 7 adults. We learn about life underground for the airmen that control the missiles. It was very cramped quarters but I popped off a few shots for my blog. We were very fortunate to have such an expert on the Minuteman Missile and the launch procedures. The ranger at the desk told us how lucky we were to be taking the tour today. The summer crowds were gone, the weather was perfect and the free tours would end soon. I looked it up and he was right. You now have to book your tour online, $6.
30 minutes later we were back on top and I headed down 240 for Badlands NP (BNP). I stop at the Prairie Homestead Visitor Center to see if it is worth my time & money. I decided I don't want to spend the $7 to walk around old buildings. There is a real 1909 sod house on display but I am content to just use my zoom and get a few shots.
Down the road to BNP, I stop at the VC for my stamp, map, exhibits then take 240 back towards I-90. I got some decent photos of the erosion that makes BNP noteworthy. On my way out of the park, I see a line of cars pulled over. This usually means animals are in camera range. There is a prairie dog town close to the road so I pull over as well. I try to get something worthwhile, but really needed a bigger zoom than I have, Five minutes later I am back heading for I-90. I did not allow much time for BNP as I had been there many years ago and would not be taking any of the hikes. Just get some photos and move on.
240 joins I-90 at Wall so I stop for gas, food. There must be hundreds of signs for Wall Drug as you travel thru South Dakota. They claim they spend $400,000 and their signs every year. Ted Hustead started it all 1931 by offering free ice water to all that would stop at his store. The road to Mt. Rushmore brought thousands of travelers thru Wall and he never looked back. Now there are signs all over the world declaring how far they are from Wall Drug. My GPS takes me right to the place. The huge parking lots are a clue they get plenty of visitors daily. RVs and big rigs have their own parking lot. I go inside to see what all the fuss is about. I had not had anything to eat but pop tarts and granola bars so far, so I head for the restaurant area. The prices are a bit steep but the line is what deters me. There must have been 30 people in line before me. No thanks. Wall Drug is huge and packed with tourists. It looks like they have taken over several stores over the years and just kept getting bigger. You walk from room to room, each one full of kitschy stuff. Anything you want with Wall Drug on it, they have it. Plus souvenirs with the theme of Indians, buffalo, South Dakota stuff and everything else you could possibly want. I don't need any more souvenirs so I am in/out in 15 minutes. I found a gas station that also had a Subway sandwich shop attached. Paid for both gas and veggie sub and headed for Rapid City.
I ate while driving and in less than an hour was in Rapid City. I follow the signs to the Information Center and get some maps and advice. I told the lady my plans to camp in Wind Cave NP (WCNP) until the Buffalo Roundup. She calls them for me and tells me they still have spots available. Her advice was to take 79 South to Hot Springs. A quick look at the map and you realize that you are going too far south and have to go back north to WCNP. She tells me that going thru Custer State Park (CSP) and taking 87 South is very slow going and time consuming. I believe her and get rolling. I set my GPS and cruise control and set off for Hot Springs. I cruise the town looking for grocery stores, restaurants, motels. I see one motel that looks affordable and stop to chat with the guy at the desk. Rates are not too bad until the day before the Buffalo Roundup, then it jumps to $100+. He tells me there are only a few places open for dinner now. I stop at the China Buffet to get prices. She tells me it is $10 for the dinner buffet and they have a TV. I told her I would be back for food and Monday Night Football. A quick stop at the store for bananas, bread & water. WCNP turns off the water today in the campground and the rates are cut in half. I figured I would need a few gallons over the next 4 days. I then head up 385 to WCNP. I stop at the Visitors Center (VC) to verify they still have empty slots and the price has been reduced. Over to the campground, find a spot and pull in. Most NP campgrounds are so big that you drive in, find a campsite, mark it and then drive back to the entrance to reserve and pay. This campground is small enough that I just walk back to pay. I got 4 nights for $18 because I am a senior and the water was shut off today. I meet a Chinese girl that is at the pay station at the same time. We chat a bit and she tells me her name is Hanling, now living in Kentucky. I botched pronouncing her name and asked if 'Hailey' was OK. I think this has happened to her before. Many Americans probably mispronounce it first few times they try. Hanling was gracious enough to let me slide by with Hailey. I told Hanling my plans asked if she would like to have Chinese food in Hot Springs. I was pleasantly surprised when she said yes. We agreed to roll in about an hour. She had to set up her tent, and I wanted to take a sponge bath plus get my van ready for sleeping. I drove back to Hot Springs, parked and we went into the China Buffet. The lady running the place recognized me from earlier, greets us and seated us in a booth. One of the things I like about buffets is that once your drink order is in, you can help yourself. We both picked what we wanted were eating in minutes. I found out Hanling had been born in China but now living & working in the US. With a PhD in Engineering, she had landed a job in Kentucky at a consulting firm. I was impressed. My years at UNLV in Education could not stand up to a PhD! After eating, we went into the banquet room where the TV was located. After an hour of football I drove back to WCNP. Said goodnight to Hanling and hit the sack. I was up at first light and got my oatmeal going. I said goodbye to Hanling as she was heading to North Dakota and Teddy Roosevelt NP. After BF, I cleaned up and decided to tour Jewel Cave NM. Up to Custer then on 16 West. Parked, got my jacket and camera then headed for the cave tour booth. Jewel Cave is a constant 49f (9c) so you will need a light jacket. I paid my $6 for the cave tour and went into the VC. Got the stamp for my NP passport and waited for my tour to be called. Elevator down to the cave and follow our guide thru the cave. Jewel Cave is huge, 3rd longest in the world and not all of it has been explored yet. It was discovered by two local prospectors in 1900. They felt cold air blowing out and decided to explore what they could. Teddy Roosevelt designated Jewel Cave a National Monument in 1908. It was named Jewel Cave because the calcite crystals inside the cave resemble jewels when the light hits them. We listen to our tour guide tell us about what we are seeing. Cave photos are tricky but took what I could. They warn you when you book the tour how many stairs there are. They are not kidding. Anyone with mobility issues simply could not do this tour. About an hour later the tour was over and we took the elevator up and out. They do have 2 hiking trails at Jewel Cave, but 90% of the park was burned by wildfires in 2000. It will be decades before it looks anything like it did before the fires.
I looked at my map and decided to visit Crazy Horse next. I stopped to take a few photos of the burned area then on to Custer. Up 385 North a short distance is entrance to the Crazy Horse Memorial, I pay the $11, and into the building They have built a new visitors center since I was last here about 15 years ago. Take in the movie, the indoor exhibits then outside. There are plenty of Chinese tourists here all getting photos of the huge sculpture of Crazy Horse off in the distance. It is so big you could put all the President's heads at Rushmore on just the head of Crazy Horse. Those working on it admit they will not live long enough to see it finished. It is financed by entrance fees, no tax dollars used here. This is my third time here and doubt I will come back. Not that much progress in last 15 years that I can see. A few have speculated that it will never be finished. What is certain is that all of us here today won't be around if and when it is finished. I asked a few visitors to take a photo of me with both the model of the sculpture and real thing off in the distance. After about 30 minutes out on the plaza, I decided I had seen enough. I went back to my van to switch into shorts. It had warmed up considerably since this morning. It was another perfect day in SD. Sunny, warm, light wind.
As I walked to my van, I saw Hanling's car parked 2 over from mine. I recognized it and then checked the license plates to be sure. I changed and then fixed a PB&J sand plus an apple for lunch. I wanted to see her again so decided to wait until she was through touring the Crazy Horse Memorial. I greeted her when she got to her car and found out she had been over to Jewel Cave as well. I was a tour behind hers and then we both headed for Crazy Horse. She was going to visit Mt. Rushmore next and so was I. I followed her over to Rushmore and realized we made a mistake. Last time I was here they did not charge for parking. Now they do, $11 per vehicle. We could of left one car at Keystone and saved $11. Too late now. We each paid $11 to park and walked beneath The Avenue of the Flags. At the top of the amphitheater you have the best view of the President's heads. We both got our photos and then decided to walk the President's Trail. You get some interesting views of the heads as you walk the trail. Certainly worth doing if you are mobile enough to climb some stairs. There are a few exhibits at the end plus a small gift shop. I bought a Mt. Rushmore bag and we headed for the parking lot.
Hanling had booked a motel in Rapid City so I followed her there. I needed a Walmart for a folding chair for the Roundup. I left mine in Vegas and would need one in a few days. All of us viewing the Roundup will have hours to wait before they drive the buffalo past the viewing area. I bought some bananas, apples plus the chair and I was done shopping. Hanling found a Pizza Hut on her phone that was not too far from her motel. I put the address into my GPS and we would meet there in a few hours. I went to a Wendy's to use their wifi then read until time to meet. I used my GPS to find the Pizza Hut and got a surprise. It was for take-out only and not a real restaurant. I called her and said we needed to find a different pizza place. The problem was that my GPS is 10 years old and the pizza place close to her motel was not in my GPS. The street was not on my GPS either. Hanling was kind enough to drive to the Pizza Hut so I could follow her to the Pizza Ranch. The Pizza Ranch turned out to be a great choice. It is a buffet style with salads, soup, bread sticks, and dessert plus pizza. All for $11, a bargain IMO. I gave it a good review on TripAdvisor. We had a great meal and I had a good dinner companion. I got to know more about Hanling, her job and life in Kentucky. All too soon it was time to say goodbye, again. She could not stay for the Roundup and needed to head for Teddy Roosevelt NP. I had basically the same itinerary, but she would be 2-3 days ahead of me. She had noticed one of my headlights was out. I used my bright lights as much as possible on the drive back to WCNP rather than drive with 1 headlight. I set my GPS for WCNP but made a poor decision. I should have gone thru Hot Springs again but followed my GPS instead. It took me thru CSP instead. The lady at the Information Center was right. 16A & 87 has too many curves and slow speeds to make decent time to WCNP. That route may be shorter mileage wise, but not time-wise. I got back to my camping site about 10pm and turned in. What a great day. The weather was perfect, toured Jewel Cave, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore plus had dinner with Hanling again. Hopefully we can stay in touch meet again one day.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:51 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

7,000 Mile Road Trip Plus Iceland, Part 5

Deadwood, Chainsaw art, Mt. Rushmore,Wind Cave tour, Custer State Park

sunny 70 °F

I was up with the sun and fixed my oatmeal. I decided to visit Deadwood, Sturgis and then Mt. Rushmore at night. I knew they had an evening program and since I would be close, it made sense to hit that on the way back to Wind Cave campground. Drove to Custer, then on to Deadwood. The leaves were just starting to turn color at this elevation and stopped to take a few photos. I just blundered my way around downtown Deadwood until I found the Visitor Center. I had to pay to park but it was only a quarter for 30 minutes. There is free parking in Deadwood, but not in the historic section. I got my maps and headed out. I wanted to visit their library to check my e-mail then started walking historic Main St. I found the saloon where Wild Bill Hickok was killed and looked at the exhibits. The saloon recreates the killing of Wild Bill several times at day but the next performance was hours away. Main St. is full of souvenir shops and all were running sales because the summer was over. I bought a Sturgis hat for my nephew and a few Deadwood coins for myself. Next up was Mt. Moriah Cemetery, the 'Boot Hill' for Deadwood. This is the final resting place for Wild Bill Hickok and many others. Deadwood has plenty of tourists because Wild Bill got killed here. The TV series 'Deadwood' helped as well. I doubt they would have had as much success if Wild Bill had been killed in nearby Lead (rhymes with heed).
I had asked at the VC about a laundry and auto parts store. I was told both were over in Lead, only 5 miles away. I did a load of laundry, my first since leaving Steve's house in Mass. Read my book while waiting and had a PB&J sand, apple, banana for lunch. I found the auto parts store, paid for a new headlight and ask who could put it in for me. The counter guy said he could and within 5 minutes he had it in. I gave him $5 and headed for Sturgis. It was on the way but a waste of time IMO. It is a special place during motorcycle week, but just a regular town the rest of the year. Drove to Keystone and got out to get some photos of the wood carvings for sale. Jarrett Dahl does chainsaw art while you watch. Worth a stop IMO. It is just outside Keystone on your way up the hill to Rushmore. I showed my parking pass at the entrance to the parking garage (good for 1 year) and walked to the amphitheater for the evening program. It is impressive, worth doing, once. I doubt I will make the effort again. A Park Ranger introduces a film explaining how Gutzon Borglum and 400 workers carved the president's faces between 1934-1941. Then she asked all veterans to come onstage to be recognized. It was impressive how many vets were in attendance that night. I got a few photos of the veterans on stage, the four presidents and then drove back to Custer, 385 to WCNP, bed about 10pm.
I got up with the sun, had my BF, and over to the Visitor Center (VC). There is no water in the campground and I used their bathroom to clean up. I signed up for the first cave tour and waited for my start time. Wind Cave was known to the Lakota Sioux who spoke of a hole that blew air. The first recorded discovery was in 1881 by Tom & Jesse Bingham. It is recorded that Tom Bingham's hat blew off his head the first time he looked into the opening, the second time his hat was sucked into the cave and never found. We walked behind the VC to the natural opening to Wind Cave. The elevator is next to the natural opening and we all go down to start the tour. It was a decent tour, but if you only have time for one cave tour, I would recommend Jewel Cave NP. It just has better cave features than WC. Back on top, I decide to spend the day in Custer State Park. I want to find out where to park and the best way to view the Roundup.
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On my way to CSP, I stopped at the Wind Cave sign on highway 87. Several bison were using the corner of the sign to scratch themselves. Got some good snaps and moved on. At the West entrance, I paid the $20 fee and took the Wildlife Loop Rd to the buffalo corrals. I saw a sign for prairie dogs and took the dirt road to have a look. Got a few snaps and moved on. Plenty of deer, elk, antelope and bison were out this morning. Burros were wondering around the loop road and most cars slowed or stopped to get a photo. I took a few from my van and moved on.
They have erected large tents close to the corrals and I pull in with many other vehicles. CSP rangers are giving advice on the Roundup, parking, pancake BF, etc. I saw some buffalo were being herded this morning. I joined many others in getting some photos of what was going on. We could hear the crack of the whips the cowboys were using to herd the buffalo to the corrals. I was told that they were getting a few dozen in the corrals today. After they had that group of buffalo in the corrals, I drove to the CSP Visitor Center.
This VC is newer and nicer than most National Park VC. They have a film on CSP narrated by Kevin Costner. It is very well done and highlights the park, bison and has a section on Sylvan Lake. After the film, I stopped at the Game Lodge, but they were closing early because of the Roundup tomorrow. I wanted to check my e-mails but would have to go to Custer for that. I went to the Custer library and logged on. After e-mailing and checking the weather for Glacier & Yellowstone, I decided to visit Sylvan Lake. Took 89 North to Sylvan Lake and walked about halfway around the lake. It really is a pretty lake with huge granite boulders in and around the shoreline. It was time to head back and I took 87 South. This section is really slow going as the road twists and turn continuously all the way back to Wind Cave. You go thru the Needles Eye Tunnel. This is a very narrow, 1 car at a time tunnel. RVs and large trucks simply won't make it thru the Needles Eye. I get out to take a few snaps of the tunnel and of the Black Hills. 87 It is very slow going but very scenic as well.
It took over an hour to get back to the campground and it was starting to get dark. I had decided I was going to go back to the China Buffet in Hot Springs rather than fix eggs and go to bed at 8pm. As I was getting ready to leave, the sky lit up in a beautiful sunset. After the show was over I drove back to Hot Springs. The lady there ask where Hanling was and I told her she had moved on to Yellowstone NP. After eating, I watched Thursday Night Football until they closed at 10pm. I missed having Hanling there to socialize with. Eating alone just is not much fun. Back to the campground and time for bed.

Posted by vegasmike6 19:07 Archived in USA Tagged parks Comments (0)

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